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Professor at Texas Woman's University, editor of LIBRARIANS' CHOICES, avid reader, movie lover, and zealous traveller
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26. New LBH Poetry Award winner for 2014: ETCHED IN CLAY

The latest recipient of the Lee Bennett Hopkins Award was recently announced. 

This year’s winner is Etched in Clay: The Life of Dave, Enslaved Potter and Poet written by Andrea Cheng, with woodcuts by the author, published by Lee & Low Books (2013). The award and a $1000 prize, courtesy of award founder Lee Bennett Hopkins, will be presented at Penn State University in the fall.

Two honor books were also selected: 

Ron Koertge's novel in verse Coaltown Jesus (Candlewick Press, 2013)

Rutherford B., Who Was He?: Poems About Our Presidents by Marilyn Singer, illustrated by John Hendrix (Disney-Hyperion, 2013)

Fore more information, go here

And for resources for sharing the previous award and honor books, look for the Lee Bennett Hopkins Poetry Award Teaching Toolbox.

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27. Launching our SCIENCE anthology!

Here's the scoop!

I'm excited to report that the latest installment of The Poetry Friday Anthology is out-- and it's SCIENCE focused! ALL the 200+ poems are science-themed and once again we provide Take 5! mini-lessons for every poem to help teachers, librarians, and parents share the poems with children (grades K-5) while building science knowledge AND literacy. 

We have 218 poems by 78 poets!

We offer a poem-a-week for Kindergarten, 1st grade, 2nd grade, 3rd grade, 4th grade, and 5th grade (for Poetry Friday or ANY day).

Every poem has a 5-step (Take 5!) mini-lesson with connections to the new Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS).

For the first time, we're also publishing Student Editions with just the poems (no mini-lessons) for children-- accompanied by fun black-and-white sketches. 

I'll be posting more about this new book throughout the month, but for now I'm thrilled to say, "It's OUT!" To get your copy, go to PomeloBooks.com.

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28. Poet to Poet: Margarita Engle and Mariko Nagal

I am excited to launch a new (ongoing) series on my blog: Poet to Poet.
I'm trying to connect two poets, one interviewing the other about her/his new book. Our first pairing features Margarita Engle, winner of multiple Pura Belpre and Newbery honor recognitions, who interviewed new poet, Mariko Nagal. Mariko has a new novel in verse debuting March 1: Dust of Eden (published by Albert Whitman). Here's the lowdown on the book: "'We lived under a sky so blue in Idaho right near the towns of Hunt and Eden but we were not welcomed there.' In early 1942, thirteen-year-old Mina Masako Tagawa and her Japanese-American family are sent from their home in Seattle to an internment camp in Idaho. What do you do when your home country treats you like an enemy? This memorable and powerful novel in verse, written by award-winning author Mariko Nagai, explores the nature of fear, the value of acceptance, and the beauty of life. As thought-provoking as it is uplifting, Dust of Eden is told with an honesty that is both heart-wrenching and inspirational."

I challenged them to pitch and respond to three questions, just to get the ball rolling. Here are Margarita's questions and Mariko's responses. Enjoy!
Margarita Engle

1.  I write historical verse novels, so I love it when other authors see the value of this form.  Why did you choose the verse novel form for a historical story, and how did that choice influence the way you tell the story?

Long time ago, when I was an undergraduate, I minored in history; I loved imagining the how’s and why’s in history – and also making connection between the past and the present. I was never good about memorizing what happened in what year, but I was good at imagining and, probably more importantly, picking up on the smallest details and daydreaming about the voiceless and the forgotten people in history. I love archives and history books, I love reconstructing a faraway time and place through learning about small details. Every time I start “living” in the past through my research, I’m startled by how similar we are, how much their stories are our stories, and their issues and heartbreaks still the same as ours. 

In Dust of Eden, the story found its own form – there have been many beautifully written books about Japanese-American internment camps but I had to tell my own version of the story, Mina’s story. To be honest, at one point, I almost gave up on writing this story – but Mina kept insisting to tell her story – and later, Nick, her brother, also start insisting to tell his story. I knew it was going to be told from Mina’s point of view; I knew they were going to an internment camp; I knew she’d come out of the experience with a conflicting view about what it means to be an American. The rest unfolded on its own. Poetry – or at least the verse novel – gave a poetic space for her internal voice, her bewilderment, her anger and her sadness to come out in small snapshot-like moments. I can’t imagine this book told in any other way except for the form it’s in. 

I think most writers feel this, but now that the manuscript is done and about to be published, I wish I could rewrite this verse-novel to make it better – I see so many plot holes and ways to make it better. Alas, it’s too late now.  

2.  Your subject is a deeply emotional one.  Was there a personal inspiration, and how did your own emotions pass back and forth between you and your characters?

One of the early blog reviews complained that all Japanese-American internment camp stories are sad, and to be honest, I’m still puzzling over the comment. All over the world, every day, people are driven out of their homes because of natural crisis or war or for financial reasons, and these scars go deep, no matter how much they’ve recovered their losses in later years. When the government betrays you in whatever shape – be it their failure to protect farmers, children, underprivileged, workers – it does make you question the idea of citizenship and state. And in many ways, Japanese-Americans were betrayed by their government – Americans of Italian and German descents weren’t interned; the moment attack on Pearl Harbor occurred, Japanese-American men of prominent civic positions were rounded up and imprisoned, just because they were heads of Japanese-American community associations, or they were Buddhist and Shinto priests. These people lost everything – their homes, their properties, their businesses – all of these sold off at one-tenth, two-tenth of what they were worth. It took nearly 45 years when the Civil Liberties Act of 1988 passed and interned Japanese-Americans were restituted, finally. 

Mariko Nagal
I grew up in San Francisco amongst many Japanese-Americans, and for me, Japanese-Americans were a mysterious group of people. They looked Japanese, but their Japanese were often times “broken”, or at their best, the language from long times ago, the kind of Japanese I heard my grandparents’ generation speak. They had the modesty and work-ethic of the older Japanese generation as well but in many ways, they were fully American at the same time. The first time I learned about the internment camp was through Dr. William Kiyasu, our doctor in San Francisco, who, one day mentioned about how he was lucky to find a sponsor to take him out of “the camp” to finish his university studies. You have to keep in mind, back in early 80’s, the internment camp experience was still a deeply humiliating, deeply painful experience for the Japanese-American community; they didn’t talk about it, and though they loved their country, they still carried a deep wound inside of them. And I still remember his face when he was telling that story – his eyes had a faraway look. So this story – at least the Japanese-American internment camp part – has been with me for nearly thirty years. 

I grew up as a global nomad – my father’s job forced us to move every three years around the world, so for me, the idea of displacement is a keenly felt subject. In many ways, all of my work – be it for children or for adults – tackle the question of displacement and homelessness. When I started to write Dust of Eden, I had just returned to living in Japan after twenty years abroad – and for me, I just couldn’t find a way to navigate my way around this foreign land. I looked Japanese, I spoke Japanese, but I didn’t belong there linguistically or culturally. Of course, now that I’ve lived here for nearly fifteen years, I find myself feeling the same thing whenever I go to the US. Well, that’s not true – I seem to belong everywhere and nowhere at the same time, and I’m still trying to make sense out of that phenomenon. Dust of Eden came from both the historical and the personal – my desire to articulate the sense of loss, the sense of bewilderment about who I am, through a historical time and place. 

3.  Is there one special aspect of your story that you hope children will remember long after they finish reading the book?

This is a hard question. Let me see… I hope they will remember that everyone has a story inside of them. I want readers to come out with a sense of hope, a sense that no matter how bad things may look, it’s going to get better, eventually, and it will get better. 

<!--[if gte mso 9]> Normal 0 false false false EN-US JA X-NONE <![endif]--> Posting by Sylvia M. Vardell © 2014. All rights reserved.

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29. Poetry Aloud Here 2... out now!

I wrote Poetry Aloud Here: Sharing Poetry with Children in the Library nearly 10 years ago. (Wow, that thought gives me pause. How did a whole decade pass by so quickly?) This was the culmination of years and years of work in poetry for young people, including developing and teaching a new graduate course in poetry for young people. I was thrilled that ALA wanted to publish it and so gratified at its success. Then they asked me to do a second edition—which I was happy to do. It means there is still interest in sharing poetry with children—and I can testify that there are now heaps of new poets and poetry resources available-- which is wonderful. So now I’m happy to report that the second edition was released this week with a lovely notice from ALA: http://www.ala.org/news/press-releases/2014/02/sharing-poetry-children

How is the second edition different from the first?

It’s 70 pages longer (but with the same six-chapter structure) and full of new citations of books, poets, awards, and more. Well, several years have lapsed since the first book was published and so many new poets and fantastic books have emerged. It was fun to update all that information. It opens with a fabulous new poem, “How to Read a Poem Aloud,” by the lovely April Halprin Wayland and features new poet profiles and poems  (by Margarita Engle, David L. Harrison, and Joyce Sidman) alongside the previous wonderful poets, profiles, and poems. Many new “practitioner perspectives” are also woven throughout, with teachers and librarians sharing how poetry has worked in their settings. 

In the section “Meet the Poets,” I feature 66 “Names to Know” with nuggets about each of them and their work (up from 50 poets featured previously). Award information now also includes the Children’s Poet Laureate and Lion and Unicorn Award along with updated information about all the previous poetry awards. Plus there are many new lists of poetry books, like 10 collections of haiku, 10 novels in verse for the intermediate grades, and new pairings of fiction and poetry and of nonfiction and poetry.

There’s a whole new section on poetry e-books and poetry apps and several new activities to try (like a “Treasure Hunt for Poem Parts”). The list of poet birthdays to celebrate is twice as long as is the list of poems about libraries (I LOVE finding poems about books, reading, and libraries), and so is the the appendix of “Noteworthy Poets” (including “Notable Poets from Many Cultures”). Finally, the Bibliography of Children’s Poetry Books includes more than 200 new poetry books that are cited throughout the narrative. 

FYI: Here’s the table of contents of chapter headings:
Chapter One: Why Make Poetry a Priority?
Chapter Two: Which Poets Are Popular?
Chapter Three: What Poetry Do Children Enjoy?
Chapter Four: How Do You Promote Poetry?
Chapter Five: How Do You Present Poetry to Children?
Chapter Six: What Happens after You Share the Poem?

I hope you’ll give my new book a look.
Get it here!
I welcome responses and feedback. Thanks bunches!

Meanwhile, head on over to No Water River where the multi-talented Renee LaTulippe is hosting the Poetry Friday party!

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30. Sneak Peek 2014

It's time again to gather my list of forthcoming poetry titles for children and teens planned for publication in 2014. As usual, this list is only a beginning and I hope you'll comment or contact me if you know of other titles scheduled to be released this year. (I'll try my best to keep it updated throughout the year.) Meanwhile, here's what I know so far. 
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  1. Alexander, Kwame. 2014. The Crossover. Boston: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt.
  2. Brown, Skila. 2014. Caminar. Somerville, MA: Candlewick.
  3. Crowe, Chris. 2014. Death Coming Up the Hill. Boston: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt.
  4. Denton, Graham. 2014. My Rhino Plays the Xylophone: Poems to Make You Giggle. A & C Black.
  5. Engle, Margarita. 2014. Silver People: Voices from the Panama Canal. Boston: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt.
  6. Engle, Margarita. 2014. Tiny Rabbit's Big Wish. Boston: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt.
  7. Frost, Helen. 2014. Room 214: A Year in Poems. (10th Anniversary Reissue of Spinning Through the Universe, 2004). New York: Macmillan.
  8. Gibson, Amy. 2014. By Day, By Night. Ill. by Meilo So. Honesdale, PA: Boyds Mills Press.
  9. Gifford, Peggy. 2014. The Great Big Green. Ill. by Lisa Desimini. Honesdale, PA: Boyds Mills Press.
  10. Gittins, Chrissie. 2014. Stars in Jars: New and Collected Poems. New York: Bloomsbury.
  11. Graham, Joan B. 2014. The Poem That Will Not End: Fun With Poetic Forms and Voices. Two Lions.
  12. Grimes, Nikki. 2014. Poems in the Attic. New York: Lee & Low. 
  13. Holt, K. A. 2014. Rhyme Schemer. San Francisco: Chronicle.
  14. Hopkins, Lee Bennett. Ed. 2014. Manger. Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans.
  15. Janeczko, Paul. Ed. 2014. Firefly July: A Year of Very Short Poems. Ill. by Melissa Sweet. Somerville, MA: Candlewick.
  16. Johnston, Tony. 2014. Sequoia. New York: Macmillan.
  17. Kuderick, Madeleine. 2014. Kiss of Broken Glass. New York: HarperTeen.
  18.  Latham, Irene. 2014. Dear Wandering Wildebeest: And Other Poems from the Water Hole. Brookfield, CT: Millbrook/Lerner. 
  19. Lewis, J. Patrick and Florian, Douglas. 2014. Poem-mobiles: Crazy Car Poems. Ill. by Jeremy Holmes. New York: Schwartz & Wade/Random House.
  20. Lewis, J. Patrick. 2014. Everything is a Poem: The Best of J. Patrick Lewis. Ill. by Cristina Pritelli. Mankato: MN: Creative Editions.
  21. Lewis, J. Patrick. 2014. James Reese Europe and the Harlem Hellfighters. Ill. by Gary Kelley. Mankato, MN: Creative Editions.
  22. Lewis, J. Patrick and Lyon, George Ella. 2014. Voices from the March: Washington, D.C., 1963. Honesdale, PA: Wordsong/Boyds Mills Press.
  23. Michelson, Richard. 2014. S is for Sea Glass: A Beach Alphabet. Ill. by Doris Ettlinger. Chelsea, MI: Sleeping Bear Press. 
  24. Muth, Jon. J. 2014. Hi, Koo!: A Year of Seasons. New York: Scholastic.
  25.  Nagai, Mariko. 2014. Dust of Eden. Chicago: Whitman. 
  26. Oliver, Lin. 2014. Little Poems for Tiny Ears. Ill. by Tomie de Paola. New York: Nancy Paulsen Books/Penguin.
  27. Raczka, Bob. 2014. Joy in Mudville. Minneapolis: Carolrhoda (Lerner).
  28. Raczka, Bob. 2014. Santa Clauses: Short Poems from the North Pole.  Minneapolis: Carolrhoda (Lerner).
  29. Salas, Laura Purdie. 2014. Water Can Be. Ill. by Violeta Dabija. Brookfield, CT: Millbrook.
  30. Schmidt, Annie. 2014. A Pond Full of Ink. Ill. by Sieb Posthuma. Translated. Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans.
  31. Shields, Carol Diggory. 2014. Baby’s Got the Blues. Somerville, MA: Candlewick.
  32. Sidman, Joyce. 2014. Winter Bees & Other Poems of the Cold. Ill. by Rick Allen. Boston: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt.
  33. Swaim, Jessica. 2014. Classic Poetry for Dogs: Why Do I Chase Thee. Ill. by Chet Phillips. Layton, UT: Gibbs Smith.
  34. Vardell, Sylvia and Wong, Janet. Eds. 2014. The Poetry Friday Anthology for Science. Princeton, NJ: Pomelo Books.
  35. Weatherford, Carole Boston. 2014. Sugar Hill: Harlem's Historic Neighborhood. Ill. by R. Gregory Christie. Chicago: Whitman.
  36. Wilson, Karma. 2014. Outside the Box. Ill. by Diane Goode. New York: Margaret K. McElderry Books/Simon & Schuster.
  37. Woodson, Jacqueline. 2014. (Novel in verse-- don't know the title, but I'll find out soon). New York: Penguin.
  38. Yolen, Jane. 2014. Sister Fox’s Field Guide to Writing. Unsettling Wonder.
  39. Nelson, Marilyn. 2014. How I Discovered Poetry. Ill. by Hadley Hooper. New York: Dial.

Image credit: TheFrugalGirls.com

Posting by Sylvia M. Vardell © 2014. All rights reserved.

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31. Blog Tour: The Poem That Will Not End

I'm so excited to host the first day of the Blog Tour for poet Joan Bransfield Graham. Her new book, The Poem That WIll Not End is due out tomorrow. It's an ingenious picture book that is half story and half poetry notebook, all told through the point of view of a rambunctious young boy. Here, Joan shares a bit of the "back story" behind the creation of this book. 

 From Joan Bransfield Graham:

THE POEM THAT WILL NOT END:  Fun with Poetic Forms and Voices
I am thrilled that Sylvia agreed to be a part of the Blog Tour for my new book THE POEM THAT WILL NOT END:  Fun with Poetic Forms and Voices, which debuts tomorrow, Jan. 28, from Amazon Children’s Publishing/Two Lions.  Sylvia has done so much to connect people through the pleasures of poetry!  Traveling worldwide to speak, teaching her University classes, and editing her own poetry anthologies, it astonishes me how she can fit it all in. 
It started with a rhythm, / a rhythm and a rhyme.”  And, just like my main character, Ryan O’Brian, I couldn’t stop myself.  This book is the opposite of Writer’s Block.  Ryan is on a creativity streak with no end in sight—he can’t STOP writing poetry and does so in many inventive ways.  
There is a story poem, 22 poems embedded in the artwork, and a three-page glossary of 15 poetic forms and five voices done as Ryan’s “notebook,” complete with doodles.  The information was broken up visually and done in such an entertaining way.  Thanks, Art Director Katrina Damkoehler and Designer Ryan (!) Michaels. The illustrator, Kyrsten Brooker, who lives in Alberta, Canada did a fabulous job!  I love her energy, her perspectives, the textures of her stunning collage and paint technique. 
On page 13, where Ryan is stuffed into a basketball net, she said that, as crazy as that might seem, both of her sons had done that!  She decided to do the back matter as Ryan’s notebook.  When I had too many poems to fit in the book, my fantastic editor, Melanie Kroupa, suggested putting one on the back cover and had many fun thoughts about the art.  When I noticed all the words in the title were about the same length, it struck me perhaps we could “skateboard” the title.
Probably my favorite spread from the book is p. 20-21, where Ryan is conducting an “environmental symphony,” with the Italian sonnet “Conductor” on the stairs before him.  The expression on Ryan’s face is perfect—he is swept up in the artistry of the moment.   I can’t wait to do this poem in schools with students using my ocean drum, rain sticks, thunder stick . . . “In storms I can conduct a symphony: / I stand in front of all those instruments.”                               
My manuscript for THE POEM THAT WILL NOT END won First Prize in the Picture Book category at the SCBWI Orange County Retreat 2010.   In January 2011 I met my wonderful editor, Melanie Kroupa, at our SCBWI CenCal Retreat at the Santa Barbara Mission.  Melanie was amazing to work with and included me in the conversation throughout, encouraging my ideas.  At a later workshop, I discovered that the four anchor standards of the Common Core are Communication, Collaboration, Critical Thinking, and Creativity.  All of those come into play in the creation of a children’s book, don’t they?  There are Teacher Idea Sheets and a Common Core Guide available for my book.
In March I am planning to offer a contest for students to suggest a creative stanza of their own inspired by POEM.  We’ll try to “go around the world” so that the poetry will not end.  There will be prizes—books, of course—with a Grand Prize of a free one-hour Skype Author Visit plus two 30-minute Skype prizes, too.  I’ll be sure that Sylvia gets all the details to pass along.
If there were a collective noun for a “gathering of poets,” I think it would have to be a “passion of poets” since poets are so passionate about their work.  I was fortunate to have the opportunity to study with Myra Cohn Livingston in her UCLA Poetry Master Class.  What an insightful group that was and is; many of their names are listed here on your blog.  I also feel honored to be included with them in many of Lee Bennett Hopkins’, Paul Janeczko’s, J. Patrick Lewis’, and yours and Janet Wong’s extraordinary anthologies.  And Marilyn Singer’s ALA “Poetry Blast” soirees are legendary—truly a passion of poets.  
I had Amadeus in my mind as I was writing, remembering his artistic fervor.  And so I dedicate THE POEM THAT WILL NOT END to all artists, writers, actors, musicians who have a “Fever” (p. 22) to paint, write, perform, play music—who throw themselves completely into their work, which in the end might be exhausting but . . . joyful. 
Ryan writes a haiku (p. 8) on his friend’s white shirt:  Smooth patch of white snow/ stretched out before watchful eyes--/ an invitation!  Dear Creative Friends, may every blank sheet of white paper offer a pristine patch of freshly fallen snow, just waiting for your unique footprints. 
                                                                                                                                          --by Joan Bransfield Graham

Note: The publisher will provide a Teacher's Guide for this book with ties to the Common Core. I'll post the link as soon as I get that information.

And here's the lowdown on the Blog Tour for the launch of this book:
Monday, Jan. 27--Poetry for Children--Dr. Sylvia Vardell, Texas Woman's University, Denton, TX, a behind-the-scenes look,  ABOVE!
Tuesday, Jan. 28--Tales from the Rushmore Kid--Tina Nichols Coury, editor interview with Melanie Kroupa, http://www.tinanicholscouryblog.com/
Wednesday, Jan. 29--Double Olympic Poetry Challenge--an international event!
No Water River--Renee LaTulippe (in Italy--using "Soccer Ball" as a prompt, write an apostrophe poem for a piece of Olympic sporting equipment), http://www.nowaterriver.com/
Teaching Authors--Six Authors Who Also Teach--(USA--using "Bike" as a prompt, write a mask poem for the same sports item--skis, skates, etc.) http://www.teachingauthors.com/
Thursday, Jan. 30--The Miss Rumphius Effect--Dr. Tricia Stohr-Hunt, University of Richmond, Richmond, VA, http://missrumphiuseffect.blogspot.com/
Friday, Jan. 31--Jama's Alphabet Soup--Jama Kim Rattigan--review of book, potato recipe, plus write "food couplet" (a la "Couplet for French Fries") to be entered into giveaway http://jamarattigan.com/ 


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32. Book Links Interview with Jorge Argueta

Here's one more posting of my work for Book Links. This is my current January 2014 column, with a few extra pieces that we didn't have room for in the magazine! There may be copies of this issue available at the ALA Midwinter conference at the Booklist booth, if you'll be there. I've been a fan of Jorge Argueta's work for quite some time, so it was really fun to get to know him a bit. He shares generously here. 


Jorge Tetl Argueta (jorgeargueta.com) is a celebrated Salvadoran poet and writer whose bilingual children’s books capture the stories and landscape of his beloved homeland, while bridging the immigrant experience in the U.S. too. His poetry for children and adults has appeared in anthologies and textbooks. He won the America’s Book Award, among other awards, for his first collection of poems for children, A Movie in My Pillow. His body of work for children includes the bilingual picture story books Zipito, Trees are Hanging from the Sky, Xochitl and the Flowers, The Perfect Pair, Moony Luna, The Hen in the City, The Fiesta of the Tortillas, and Alfredito Flies Home, as well as additional works of poetry like Talking with Mother Earth and his series of “cooking poem” books: Bean Soup, Rice Pudding, Guacamole, and Tamalitos. He is also the Director of “Talleres de Poesia” a literary organization based in the U.S. that helped launch and organize an annual Children’s Poetry Festival in El Salvador and in San Francisco. Here he shares his thoughts about growing up in El Salvador, how his roots influence his poetry writing, and how we should “play” with poetry with children.
  1. Can you describe the role poetry played in your childhood? 
Argueta: Growing up in El Salvador was a magical experience. I had the great fortune to experience life in the countryside and in the city. I grew up around my grandmother, cousins, and a large family, with whom I developed a love for mother Earth, growing, corn beans, tomatoes, and taking care of horses. My grandfather was a horseman, and he had a strong, sweet way with animals. My grandmother was an Indian healer. She had a way with words, and she spoke to the mountains, the trees, the fire, all in our native language, Nahuat. In the city, my family owned a popular little restaurant where people from all over the capital of San Salvador would eat and tell stories of the colorful towns they came from. Whenever I need to write a poem about my life experience, all I need to do is close my eyes and I find myself in those places, where memories can be bright, dark, sour, and sweet. 

2. You obviously grew up with a strong sense of place and that comes through in your work—particularly in A Movie in My Pillow. How do those roots continue to shape you as a writer? Do you feel a dual sense of place now? How does that influence your writing?

Argueta: I love El Salvador-- in my memories are the happiness of a boy and the discontent/discomfort of a young man who starts to see the injustices in an impoverished neighborhood. I saw in San Salvador (El Salvador’s capital) a place where children my age were left in complete poverty and complete anguish, an atmosphere of no hope, with prostitution, drugs, and alcohol. As a young man I knew that words could help me express what my eyes were seeing, what my heart was feeling. When I wrote A Movie In My Pillow years later I was honoring the Salvadorian children that I grew up with. I was honoring their dreams, and my dreams, the dream of a country for a better future. 
I left El Salvador many years ago and I am now a citizen of the United States. My life is in two cultures. I enjoy my life in San Francisco, but continue to love my motherland, like a child loves his mother’s hands and eyes. I believe that poetry plays an important role in a child’s life. Writing A Movie in My Pillow helped me not to forget who I am, where I lived, and what I want to share with others who’ve had the same experience. Every child in this, or any other country, should have their dreams lullabied and understood, and be given the right to education, and to be fully multilingual. 

3. Which poets, writers or artists have influenced your writing for children and how?

Argueta: I was influenced mostly by the landscape of my country, El Salvador. I was influenced by my grandmother, by my aunts, by my grandfather, and by my father. Like singing lullabies to me, he would recite poems of Pablo Neruda, Gabriela Mistral, Alfredo Espino, Claudia Laures. As I grew up, I read those poets’ works and as a young man, I imitated their way of writing. I believe that imitation is an inevitable part of the process for every writer, before going on to develop your own way of writing. I learned about similes and metaphors, descriptions of landscapes, especially in the poems of Pablo Neruda, whose work reminds me a lot of the landscapes of El Salvador. 

4. All of your poetry for children is published in bilingual editions-- Do you write your poems in Spanish first and then in English? Do you go back-and-forth in your writing? 

Argueta: I see, feel, hear, smell and write in Spanish, but I can also feel in both languages now. Similes and metaphors are easier for me in Spanish of course, but I do my own translations for some of my work. I want my work always to be published bilingually because I believe that children that come from El Salvador or any other place in Latin America should have access to our stories, so children here can develop love for their culture and for their language. Children shall find themselves in the books that we write, in the characters they see, in multicultural and bilingual books. 

5. Mixing food and poetry is an interesting and unique approach and you do it beautifully in your “Cooking Poem” books. Did this grow out of your memories of your family’s restaurant? Which new foods do you still hope to write about? 

Argueta: Yes, these books are inspired by my memories from the kitchen in my house. The smells, the shapes, the colors, the pots, the pans, the water, the fire. I know memories don’t really disappear. They live like flavors in our hearts and minds. When we close our eyes we can travel to those places that are filled with shapes and colors. The food of our heart and our spirits. These simple books that talk about beans, rice, avocados, and tamales are profound, deep memories of my childhood. I can hear and see my mother’s hands clapping tortillas. I can see the pots boiling with delicious onions, tomatoes, garlic, and bell peppers. I can hear familiar voices turning into a delicious pot that becomes a poem. I want to write more about these comfort foods, such as pupusas and stuffed peppers with delicious landscapes. Pupusas are like two tortillas put together with cheese, beans, and meat. I can see myself writing this book and filling up this pupusa with corn dough, then with clouds from San Francisco, clouds from Mexico, and clouds from El Salvador. My next book in this collection of cooking poems is called “Salsa: A Cooking Poem.” 

6.  In your extensive work in the schools, what do you find is the key to unlocking children’s interest in poetry?

Argueta: Playing! Children are natural poets. I come and simply am myself, without having anything to teach, sharing my love for corn, for rocks, for fire, for the moon, for my shoes. When you lose your fear of being ridiculous, that’s when you are being yourself, and you let the madness rise. The kids understand that in that man or in that woman standing in front of them. There is something that reminds them of themselves and you win their attention. Sometimes I bring corn and tell them that the corn has stories to say, and if they pay close attention the corn will tell them stories about where their grandmas and grandfathers came from, the stories of rivers and birds, of streams, and tall houses. The world of poetry is one that keeps on opening. It’s one that never ceases to change. It has many colors and many shapes. Just like the universe, endless.

7. You launched an Annual Children’s Poetry Festival in El Salvador in collaboration with other co-founders. Can you tell us a little about it and why you helped start it?

Argueta: I believe in the power of poetry, in the power of reading, in the power of story telling. In my country after many years of violence, there continues to be a need for all of these. Our children in El Salvador grow up in an atmosphere of beautiful landscapes around them. When it rains, there is a torrent of sounds, shapes, and colors. An orchestra that comes down singing from the clouds. My country is green and yellow and orange and is an amazing place where children need to have opportunities. A lot of our youngsters are in jail, in drugs, and prostitution. The power of poetry, the power of story traditions, can play an important role in the life of a child. The poetry festival—now in its fourth year-- lasts three days and children from different sectors of the country can come and enjoy poetry workshops. In San Francisco I founded another festival for children-- flor y canto, flower and song, which takes places on a yearly basis. Our hope is to reach the children in our community that need to get close to their heritage and develop a love for reading and writing. 

8. Each of your books of poetry for children has been richly illustrated. What role, if any, have you had in the art or design of your poetry books for children? 

Argueta: I have been fortunate that I’ve been able to meet the illustrators. In the case of A Movie in My Pillow, I became really close friends with Elizabeth Gomez who did amazing work. She told me that she became a Salvadoran for a few months, eating pupusas and getting to know our culture so that she could do the illustrations of the book. We had long conversations about the Salvador landscape and my family. For my newest books, my editor Patricia Aldana, decided that each book would have a different illustrator. For the past five years, I have been writing what I call cooking poems, a recipe in a poem. Each one of these has been done by a different illustrator and I am very pleased with the amazing illustrations these artists have created and I am amazed how the combination of words and illustration work together like magic. 

9.  How would you say your poetry has evolved? What kinds of surprises have you discovered along the way?

Argueta: One of the greatest joys life has given me is writing poetry and children’s stories. On more than one occasion I have found myself walking the streets of the San Francisco Mission district and young people tell me they learned Spanish because of my books. In 2011, the District of Colombia in Washington, D.C. named a festival in my name, and my work as an honored poet was to visit schools. To my surprise children had memorized my poems and I heard them singing and reciting them. It was an amazing feeling, an amazing experience. But the satisfaction of writing poetry goes beyond my selfish feelings. I would like poetry to be accessible to every child, in this country and in any other country. Poetry is an instrument of peace, among children and adults alike. I believe that poetry should be taught in the schools as a necessary class. Every head of the government should know poetry. 

10. What else would you like to explore in creating poetry books for young people?

Argueta: I would like to write history books that talk about heroes in my country and the unknown heroes of this country too. I would like to write poems about my country’s heroes and about the characters that I see in my neighborhood in San Francisco and that I find in the places that I visit around the USA and in other countries. I believe that it is necessary to explore… poetry in ways that communicate our history and values. My ideas of poetry are to develop characters that are unknown heroes who have touched people’s lives. We have in El Salvador, for instance, hundreds of stories that go back to colonization, beyond colonization, and all the way up to modern stories. Our mythology needs to come through for our children in this and in any other country. 

A Movie in My Pillow/ Una película en mi almohada (Children’s Book Press, 2001)
Argueta’s first work of poetry for children focuses on his childhood memories of growing up in San Salvador and then as a young immigrant in San Francisco.

Talking with Mother Earth/ Hablando con Madre Tierra (Groundwood, 2006)
Argueta continues to explore his roots with a focus on his roots as a Pipil Nahua Indian, descendant of the Aztecs, 

Introduce students to the concept of “memoir” and encourage them to write or draw about their own memories of their earlier childhoods, describing their own “movies in their pillows.” They might consider these elements drawn from Argueta’s work:
  • Favorite foods (e.g., Argueta mentions pupusas)
  • Favorite toys (e.g., yoyos)
  • Favorite pastimes (e.g., bicycle riding) 
  • Best friends (e.g. old friends like Neto and new friends like Tomás)
  • Favorite family times (e.g., grandma’s stories)
For another Hispanic memoir for children, look for Carmen Lomas Garza’s bilingual picture book, Family Pictures/Cuadros de Familia or In My Family/En mi familiar. Consider inviting students whose native language is not English to write about their memories in their native tongues or even in bilingual poems or prose.

Older students can research the location and history of El Salvador, the site of Argueta’s earliest upbringing (beginning with the map on the first pages of the book) and an important component in his autobiographical writing. Locate the capital, San Salvador, and if possible, the San Jacinto hill where Argueta’s early home was located. Identify the vegetation, wildlife (birds), and languages spoken there, since each of these is referenced in his poetry. Study the history of the terrible civil war that wrenched the country apart (1980-1990) and drove many citizens to flee to other countries—as Argueta did in settling in San Francisco. For a fictional account of a community living under a repressive regime that asks its children to spy on their parents, seek out Antonio Skármeta’s book, The Composition (Groundwood, 2003). 

Sopa de frijoles: Un poema para cocinar/ Bean Soup: A Cooking Poem (Groundwood, 2009)
Arroz con leche: Un poema para cocinar/ Rice Pudding: A Cooking Poem (Groundwood, 2010)
Guacamole: A Cooking Poem/ Un poema para cocinar (Groundwood, 2012)
Tamalitos: Un poema para cocinar/ A Cooking Poem (Groundwood, 2013)

For a true multi-sensory experience, try cooking any of the recipes that Argueta details in his “Cooking Poem” books: bean soup, rice pudding, guacamole, or tamales. Gather the ingredients and utensils ahead of time, read the book aloud to savor the language and imagery of the recipe, and work together to synthesize and write a list of steps needed to prepare and cook your chosen dish. Be clear about those steps that can be handled independently and those that require adult supervision. Film your process like a cooking show segment just for fun. 

Use Argueta’s lyrical model of writing “cooking poems” to guide students in writing about their own favorite foods. They can interview family members for the basic essentials and then turn each step into a page of its own with description and illustration. Encourage students to use similes and metaphors as Argueta does in each book, comparing each ingredient and step in the process to something else poetic. Share their “cooking poem” books and try cooking some of THEIR recipes together, too. Encourage students to explore foods from their families’ traditions and heritage—writing in English or another language!

Copyright Sylvia Vardell 2014. All rights reserved. 

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33. The Poetry of Carmen T. Bernier-Grand

As you know, I write a regular poetry column for ALA's Book Links magazine and I like to highlight it here, too. (Double duty and good promo for Book Links-- which I love! It's such a practitioner-friendly publication.) Well, somehow I forgot to feature my interview with poet and author Carmen T. Bernier Grand last Fall. So let me rectify that now and share a few nuggets. 

Carmen T. Bernier-Grand has written picture books, novels, nonfiction, and poetry, scooping up three Pura Belpre honor recognitions and several other awards along the way. Her work explores the people and stories of her native Puerto Rico as well as presenting the lives of other Latino and Latina artists, dancers, and political figures. She provides a strong sense of time and place woven throughout her works. Here, we focus particularly on her biographies-in-verse which reviewers have described as “powerful,” “lyrical,” and “inspiring.” In addition, this format blending poetry, history, and biography provides excellent study texts for applying Common Core standards and skills, particularly in bridging language arts, reading, and social studies. Indeed, her books are often included on the list of “Notable Children’s Trade Books in the Field of Social Studies” as relevant resources across the curriculum. Her book, César: ¡Sí, Se Puede! Yes, We can!, appeared on the 2005 NCSS Notables list, Frida: ¡Viva la vida! Long Live Life! was included on the 2008 NCSS Notables list, and Sonia Sotomayor: Supreme Court Justice was featured on the 2011 NCSS Notables list. Her focus on the people and places of her own culture make her a model author for theme study in the social studies. Here she provides some background information on her life, her views, and her writing process.

SV: Did you grow up with a strong sense of place? How did your roots shape your desire to become a writer?

CTBG: Salty breeze, yucca, moriviví weed closing its leaves when I touched them, reinita birds nesting in our Christmas tree, coquí tree-frogs singing me to sleep at night. The five senses composed millions of songs in me in Puerto Rico. The roots of their rhythms shaped me.

SV: Was poetry an important part of your childhood? When did you first discover a love for the genre?

CTBG: “Margarita está linda la mar. . .”  I can still hear my mother reciting Rubén Darío’s poems and my aunt singing, “Muñequita linda de cabellos de oro. . .” At five I pretended to be Margarita listening to my mother; I was the beautiful, little girl with golden hair in the song my aunt sang. 

SV: You’ve written several different kinds of books for young readers including fiction and nonfiction, so how did you first gravitate to the biography-in-verse form?

CTBG: My first biography in verse came from above. I felt as if Cesar Chavez was dictating it to me in that format.

SV: Do you approach writing poetry differently from your writing of fiction and nonfiction? What are the similarities or differences? 

CTBG: In poetry I think in short, lyrical vignettes. Although I like to write lyrically in any genre, in fiction and nonfiction I expand and explain. 

SV: What do you think biographical poetry might offer that a nonfiction prose biography might not? 

CTBG: It’s a limited form, but I see the illustrated biographies I write as introductions to the people I am presenting—appetizers for the very hungry.

Carmen was also kind enough
 to provide a new poem for readers too. 
SV: What kind of research goes into writing your poem biographies?

CTBG: I completely immerse myself in the culture. I eat its food, listen to its music, go to plays, watch movies, read literature of the times and, of course, research from home. The latter includes getting in touch with people who know the person I am writing about.

I write the first draft by hand (maybe because I didn't grow up with computers). Then I type the draft and revise it a million times. In the meantime, I am getting to know where the holes are. With those holes, I travel. And miracles happen! I got to meet Cuban ballerina Alicia Alonso, Diego Rivera's daughter, Guadalupe, and Pablo Picasso's grandson, Bernard Ruiz Picasso.

SV: Which people in history would you still like to explore in your poetry for young people?

CTBG: Gabriela Mistral, Pablo Casals, Rubén Darío. 

SV: Why are you so interested in art and artists in your poetry writing, in particular? 

CTBG: Here I have to give credit to Former Governor of Puerto Rico, Luis A. Ferré. When I was growing up, he opened the Ponce Museum of Art. I spent hours looking at art from all over the world, but also by Puerto Ricans such as José Campeche and Francisco Oller, among many on my list to write about.  How old was I? Much much shorter than I am now.  

SV: What is it that draws you to write about artists (such as Diego Rivera, Frida Kahlo, Pablo Picasso), in particular?

CTBG: I wanted to write about a woman, and chose Frida Kahlo for her painful, but colorful life. Since I had done the Mexico City research for Frida, Diego came next. Diego and Picasso were friends and their treatment of women was similar. So, why not Picasso? 

SV: So, now I'm curious... to whom is Picasso leading you next? 

CTBG: Picasso leads to Dalí...

Common Core Connections—
Here are suggestions for implementing the Common Core State Standards with biographies by Bernier-Grand. You can find more information about the standards at http://www.corestandards.org

What Would You Do?
Biographies are books that try "to breathe life and meaning into people and events," according to children’s literature expert Charlotte Huck, but often we have to provide a "hook" or motivation to interest children in reading biographies of people in the past. We can capitalize on their innate curiosity about people using books like Bernier-Grand’s that use verse to paint a portrait in a few, deft strokes. 

One approach considers how historical figures from the past might view today’s current events or issues. In “What Would Cleopatra Do? Applying the Wisdom of the Past to Today’s World,” Myra Zarnowski (2007) proposes that “reading and thinking about how people thought and acted in the past provides material for thinking about the present” and she suggests building “historical literacy” through helping children make connections to today by interpreting events in both historical and contemporary contexts. She reminds us that “the relevance of their ideas in today’s world is one reason their lives continue to be significant and worth knowing about today” and proposes the following four steps.
  1. Raise a current question (for someone from the past)
  2. Read historical literature about the person (what were their views on the issues of their times?)
  3. Research and discuss the current question (using nonfiction, Internet sources, etc.)
  4. Answer the current question from the point of view of the historical person 
For example:
1. What would (person from the past) think about (current event or person from the present such as gun control, immigration, terrorism, women in the workforce?

What would Frida Kahlo think about Lady Gaga (based on Frida: ¡Viva la vida! Long Live Life!)?
What would Pablo Picasso think about graphic novels? (read Picasso: I the King, Yo el rey)
What would Cesar Chavez think about global warming and climate change (share César; ¡Sí, Se Puede! Yes, We can!)

Read the selected book by Bernier-Grand and talk about the views and attitudes held by the book’s subject. How did she/he feel about her/his work, parents, families, role in society, and so on. Then guide the students in discussing and/or researching the contemporary topic at hand (Lady Gaga, graphic novels, climate change). Finally, speculate on the point of view that the book’s character (Frida Kahlo, Pablo Picasso, Cesar Chavez) might have regarding each modern issue. Making these connections between the people of the past and events of the present can help children see the relevance of reading about history, as well as the timelessness of attributes such as dedication, integrity, and resourcefulness. And crossing genres from poetry to nonfiction and back again challenges students to employ multiple resources and think more critically.

Bernier-Grand uses free verse to convey the life stories of her subjects, but these same individuals have also been the focus of many works of nonfiction for young readers. Pair and compare the poetic and the expository approach using some of the following examples.

DIEGO RIVERA (Diego: Bigger Than Life)
  • Diego by Jonah Winter and Jeanette Winter
  • My Papa Diego and Me/Mi papa Diego y yo: Memories of My Father and His Art/Recuerdos de mi padre y su arte by Guadalupe Rivera Marin 
  • Diego Rivera: His World and Ours by Duncan Tonatiuh
  • Diego Rivera: An Artist for the People by Susan Goldman Rubin 
FRIDA KAHLO (Frida: ¡Viva la vida! Long Live Life!)
  • Frida Kahlo: The Artist who Painted Herself by Margaret Frith and Tomie de Paola
  • Frida by Jonah Winter and Ana Juan (Scholastic, 2002)
  • Me, Frida by Amy Novesky and David Diaz

PABLO PICASSO (Picasso: I the King, Yo el rey)
  • Just Behave, Pablo Picasso! by Jonah Winter and Kevin Hawkes
  • Picasso and Minou by P. I. Maltbie

CESAR CHAVEZ (César: ¡Sí, Se Puede! Yes, We can!)
  • Harvesting Hope by Kathleen Krull 
  • A Picture Book of Cesar Chavez by David A. Adler
Students can work in teams to present their findings in a bulleted list form gleaned from the book of their choice. Then guide them in making a Venn diagram of facts from each source highlighting information found in multiple sources in the center of the diagram. Discuss those points that are different in each book too and why that author might have chosen to include those particular details. In addition, the Biography television channel (http://www.biographychannel.com) and the History television channel (http://www.historychannel.com) both offer a wealth of information and visuals to supplement historical study that children may find surprising.

Challenge the boys and girls in your class to take on the persona of Diego Rivera or Frida Kahlo in oral readings. Use both Frida: ¡Viva la vida! Long Live Life! and Diego: Bigger Than Life to examine how artists Frida Kahlo and Diego Rivera are presented through the poems in each book. Invite girls to select and perform their favorite examples of poems about Rivera filtered through Frida’s point of view in Frida: ¡Viva la vida! Long Live Life!. These might include “Diego,” “You Have Talent,” “¡Extra!,” “My Diego My Child,” “Second Marriage,” and “What Do I Live For.” Next, ask boys to do the same with poems about Frida in Diego: Bigger Than Life such as “Wings of a Blackbird,” “Devil Frida,” “An Orchid for Frida,” “Anguish and Triumph,” “Diego’s Words,” and “Death Dance.” Students can work in pairs or small groups to prepare their readings, then invite them to perform their poems (with simple props like paint brushes or costumes like an artist’s smock or flowered headdress, if desired) in a point/counterpoint fashion, with girls and boys taking turns, as follows: 

Girls: “Diego;”         Boys: “Wings of a Blackbird”
Girls: “You Have Talent;” Boys: “Devil Frida”
Girls: “¡Extra!;”         Boys: “An Orchid for Frida”
Girls: “My Diego My Child;” Boys: “Anguish and Triumph”
Girls: “Second Marriage;” Boys: “Diego’s Words,”
Girls: “What Do I Live For;” Boys: “Death Dance.”

Lead students in discussing how each artist talks about the other—about their first meeting, about their art, and about their lives together. How do their feelings change toward each other and how is that expressed? Guide students in discussing the details that converge about each figure and how the poet portrays the emotions of each person.

National Curriculum Standards for Social Studies: 
Poetry and the 10 Themes of Social Studies 
The National Council for the Social Studies (NCSS) in cooperation with the Children’s Book Council (CBC) has an annual book review committee that selects books for children in grades K-12 and produces an annotated list of “Notable Social Studies Trade Books for Young People.” They look for books that “emphasize human relations, represent a diversity of groups and are sensitive to a broad range of cultural experiences, present an original theme or a fresh slant on a traditional topic, are easily readable and of high literary quality, have a pleasing format, and, where appropriate, include illustrations that enrich the text.” The most recent list of Notable Books for the Social Studies (for 2012) included these five books of poetry:

Engle, Margarita. 2011. Hurricane Dancers; The First Caribbean Pirate Shipwreck. New York: Henry Holt. 
Durango, Julia. 2011. Under the Mambo Moon. Watertown, MA: Charlesbridge. 
Lai, Thanhha. 2011. Inside Out and Back Again. New York: HarperCollins.
McKissack, Patricia. 2011. Never Forgotten. New York: Schwartz & Wade.
Wolf, Allan. 2011. The Watch That Ends the Night. Somerville, MA: Candlewick. 

Interestingly enough, the “Notable Social Studies” lists from the last decade included a total of 55 works of poetry on the combined lists, with an average of five poetry titles per year—and this year’s list continues that trend of including five poetry books relevant for social studies instruction. (Complete annotated bibliographies are available on the NCSS and CBC web sites.)

In addition, annotations for each book also indicate the thematic strand most appropriate to each title drawn from Expectations of Excellence: Curriculum Standards for Social Studies. Here are the thematic strands for the social studies curriculum along with recommendations of recent poetry books that can serve as exemplary mentor texts in each area.

Thematic Strands of the NCSS Curriculum Standards for Social Studies: Poetry Mentor Texts
1. Culture: Flood, Nancy Bo. 2013. Cowboy Up! Ride the Navajo Rodeo. Honesdale, PA: Wordsong/Boyds Mills Press.

2. Time, Continuity, and Change: Corcoran, Jill. Ed. 2012. Dare to Dream… Change the World. San Diego, CA: Kane Miller.

3. People, Places, and Environments: Harrison, David. 2012. Cowboys. Honesdale, PA: Wordsong/Boyds Mills Press.

4. Individual Development and Identity: Cheng, Andrea. 2013. Etched in Clay: The Life of Dave, Enslaved Potter and Poet. New York: Lee & Low.

5. Individuals, Groups, and Institutions: Applegate, Katherine. 2012. The One and Only Ivan. New York: Harper.

6. Power, Authority, and Governance: Lewis, J. Patrick. 2013. When Thunder Comes: Poems for Civil Rights Leaders. San Francisco: Chronicle.
7. Production, Distribution, and Consumption: Hughes, Langston. 2012. I, Too, Am America. Ill. by Bryan Collier. New York: Simon & Schuster.

8. Science, Technology, and Society: Smith, Charles R., Jr. 2013. Brick by Brick. New York: Amistad/ HarperCollins.

9. Global Connections: Engle, Margarita. 2013. The Lightning Dreamer. Boston: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt.

10. Civic Ideals and Practices: Singer, Marilyn. 2013. Rutherford B., Who Was He?: Poems About Our Presidents. New York: Disney-Hyperion.

Happy Poetry Friday, everyone. See you over at Mainely Write!

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34. Cybils 2013 Poetry Finalists

First, I'm so sorry to be so absent at the end of the year. First I got busy with conferences and the end of the semester, then I just needed a break. I seem to be intimidated by my own blog-- thinking I can't post unless it's a lengthy, polished post-- which seems silly when I write it out loud. It's just a BLOG, for Pete's sake. So, I am resolving to post more (again) in 2014, even if it's brief and sloppy! :-)

Meanwhile, I was fortunate to serve as a judge for Round I of the Cybils (Children's and Young Adult Bloggers) Awards. We can announce our choices today officially! Seven finalists were selected after much deliberation. Drum roll...

Cybils Poetry Finalists 2013
  1. Poems to Learn by Heart edited by Caroline Kennedy
  2. Pug: And Other Animal Poems by Valerie Worth
  3. Forest Has a Song: Poems by Amy Ludwig VanDerwater
  4. Follow, Follow by Marilyn Singer
  5. What the Heart Knows: Chants, Charms, and Blessings by Joyce Sidman
  6. Pet Project by Lisa Wheeler
  7. When Thunder Comes by J. Patrick Lewis
Poems to Learn by Heart edited by Caroline Kennedy, paintings by Jon J. Muth, Disney Hyperion, Nominated by: bevpdx. Review by April Halprin Wayland, Teaching Authors

The ambition of this beautiful collection of more than 100 poems is truly to encourage students to learn poems by heart. Editor Kennedy's preface includes practical tips on memorization, ending with, "I hope that…once they learn them by heart, they won't even need this book."  Classic, contemporary, nonsense poems and poems which challenge readers to think, are organized organically within each of ten sections (including sections about self, family, school, sports and war…and an extra credit section for those who want to memorize even longer poems).  Every section begins with an engaging one-page introduction, often disclosing Kennedy's personal connection with the poems that follow.  Its premise, poetic choices and the editor's enthusiasm throughout as well as the exquisite watercolor paintings by Jon J. Muth which, as Kennedy writes, "add meaning, depth and freshness to the poems" combine to make this an award-winning book.

Pug: And Other Animal Poems (Farrar, Straus and Giroux) by Valerie Worth, illustrations by Steve Jenkins. Nominated by The Cath in the Hat. Review by Ed deCaria, Think, Kid, Think! http://www.thinkkidthink.com  

In this follow-up to 2007's Animal Poems (itself a Cybils finalist that year), Worth again brings her seemingly-simple subjects to life in a sophisticated yet accessible way. Readers will meet her "plug-ugly" pug, the bull who "would not melt", a mouse "left as a gift on the step", and sparrows and pigeons who "seem at home where there appears to be no home", plus fourteen other inviting, inspiring, or sometimes intimidating creatures. Jenkins adds color and texture to each poem, from the silver sparkle of a wood thrush's eye to the distressed look on a too-long dachshund's face, making each two-page spread pop. Pug is a masterful book of free-verse poems and illustrations that will challenge readers to view animals from an entirely new perspective, and to admire the subtle behaviors, attitudes, and characteristics that make each one unique.

Forest Has a Song: Poems by Amy Ludwig VanDerwater, illustrations by Robbin Gourley and published by Clarion. Review by Sylvia Vardell http://poetryforchildren.blogspot.com 

This is a beautifully designed poetry picture book in which the gentle watercolor paintings (by Robbin Gourley), the layout of poem and painting on each page, and even the spidery font of the text work together to create a poetry collection that is both inviting and comforting. The natural world has long been the topic of poetry for young people-- and for good reason-- and VanDerwater taps into the child's connection with the simplest details-- pinecones and sticks, footprints and flying birds, with poetry that offers many tactile details that invite children to touch, smell, and see the world outside their iPads in tangible ways. She also offers a variety of poetic forms so children (and teachers) can see how poets use the words and space on the page. Her use of rhyme is particularly noteworthy-- making it look so natural-- as if we all spoke in lyrical language when captured by the beauty of the forest.

Follow Follow: A Book of Reverso Poems by Marilyn Singer, illustrations by Josee Masse, companion to Mirror Mirror, Nominated by Perogyo; Review by Bridget Wilson, What is Bridget Reading? http://whatisbridgetreading.blogspot.com 

Marilyn Singer returns to the reverso, a poetic form she created, in Follow Follow. The reverso is quite clever. First you read the poem from top to bottom. Then you flip it and read it from the bottom up. The reverso proves the old adage " there are two sides to every story." Singer describes the collection best: "Imagine / fairy tales / upended." And now reversed: Upended / fairy tales? / Imagine!" In Follow Follow, Singer takes twelve tales and breathes new life into them. Too often people perceive fairy tales as unchanging. This couldn't be further from the truth. In this collection readers will hear from Thumbelina and the mole, the tortoise and the hare, the twelve princesses and the soldier. At the end of the book Singer offers more information about the tales and the reverso form. Josee Masse's beautifully bright illustrations offer readers a visual of both sides of each tale.

What the Heart Knows: Chants, Charms & Blessings by Joyce Sidman, illustrated by Pamela Zagarenski; Review by Kelly Ramsdell Fineman http://kellyrfineman.livejournal.com/

Truly a miraculous little book. Hard to categorize in some ways, but it has four sections: 1. chants & charms - to bolster courage and guard against evil; 2. spells & invocations - to cause something to happen; 3. laments & remembrances - to remember, regret, or grieve; and 4. praise songs & blessings - to celebrate, thank, or express love. I love the idea of giving children both poems and permission to express and validate their emotional experiences.

The Pet Project: Cute and Cuddly Vicsious Verses by Lisa Wheeler, Illustrated by Zachariah OHora, Atheneum, Nominated by Bridget Wilson. Review by Jone MacCulloch, Check It Out http://maclibrary.wordpress.com

Any young reader longing for a pet will want to read this riotously funny research romp by a bespeckled young girl on a quest to find the perfect pet.  Readers are forewarned that "Animals aren't' always charming." Notebook in hand to track observations, she visits a farm, zoo, and the woods as well as performing a "home study."  What she concludes from her research may surprise readers. Wheeler's tongue in cheek verses will provide laughs for all while introducing readers to a variety of pet possibilities.  Combined with OHara's use of strong lines yet whimsical acrylic illustrations this book will be read and reread. What stood out in THE PET PROJECT was the author's ability to weave words, poems, and a little bit of science into a fabulous collection.

When Thunder Comes: Poems for Civil Rights Leaders by J. Patrick Lewis, Chronicle Books, Nominated by: Becky L. Review by Anastasia Suen, Poet!Poet! http://asuen.com/poetry

Written by 2011-2013 Children’s Poet Laureate J. Patrick Lewis, this valuable book of poetry profiles seventeen civil rights leaders, the famous and the not-so-famous. Each poem has a two-page spread with gorgeous artwork by five different artists. The title of the poem explains the person’s role. Mitsuye Endo is THE CAPTIVE. “I was a typist, nothing more. / I loved my life, I hated war.” A short biography in the back of the book explains how she fought for her civil rights after being held in a World War II Japanese internment camp. When Thunder Comes: Poems for Civil Rights Leaders can be used year round to celebrate the heroes of civil rights. For children and teens who want to change the way things are, this smart and intriguing look at key civil rights figures can guide the way.

Our Panel:
Ed DeCaria, Think, Kid, Think!
Kelly Fineman, Writing and Ruminating 

Jone MacCulloch (Chair), Check It Out
Anastasia Suen, Poet! Poet!
Sylvia Vardell, Poetry for Children

April Halprin Wayland, Teaching Authors
Bridget Wilson, What is Bridget Reading?

Round 2 Judges will select ONE of these for the Cybils award which will be announced on Feb. 14. FYI.

I'm wishing everyone a happy, healthy new year with plenty of poetry in 2014!

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35. What if poetry and science met and fell in love?

Well, I have a secret to share. I’ve been leading a double life. I am still true to my love for poetry, but I have to admit that I’ve been playing around with science on the side. 

After the success of The Poetry Friday Anthology--- first for K-5 and then for middle school-- Janet and I talked about what to do next. After much discussion, we decided a cross-curricular approach was the way to go. When I teach my graduate course in poetry for young people, the "poetry across the curriculum" module is always the most popular. Teachers and librarians love the idea of infusing poetry in science, social studies, math, etc. And there are so many wonderful poetry books to choose from with rich content to spice up lessons. So when we thought about which area to focus on, we chose science pretty quickly. A quick look at the 811 shelves will turn up quite a few wonderful science-themed poetry collections. Plus the field of science has just published a new "framework" for science instruction, including new Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS), that makes it a timely moment to push the notion of poetry as a way into science once again. 

So... that's what I've been working on with my partner-in-poetry, the fabulous Janet Wong. It's The Poetry Friday Anthology for Science due out next March. Here's the lowdown: It will contain 218 poems for K-5 with a "Take 5" mini-lesson for each poem once again.  We're continuing our approach that begins with reading the poem aloud, inviting kids to read it out loud with you, prompting open discussion, building a skill, and connecting with other poems, books, and genres. We'll be integrating both the science standards (NGSS) and the Common Core standards (CCSS), but with a focus on celebrating the poem, as well as encouraging exploration of our world, too.  There are  poems by Joyce Sidman, J. Patrick Lewis, X.J. Kennedy, Marilyn Nelson, Marilyn Singer, Douglas Florian, Carole Boston Weatherford, Joseph Bruchac, Margarita Engle, and more (total of 72 poets). We're really thrilled with how it's all coming together.

Janet and I just spent 3 days at the NSTA (National Science Teachers Association) conference getting a crash course in science education! It was fascinating to see how tuned into literacy the science teachers were. It was BIG! And there were multiple sessions on using children's literature to promote science learning, so our ideas about sharing science-themed poetry were very well received, too. 

For teachers, librarians, and parents who simply want to promote science literacy, five minutes with a science-y poem is a great way to begin. And if you want to go even further and develop a full-blown science experience or connect with a science lesson, we offer tips there, too. 

In a recent article, “Physics And Poetry: Can You Handle The Truth?” writer Adam Frank admitted, Poems and poetry are, for me, a deep a form of knowing, just like science. Yes, obviously, they are different. But each, in its way, is a way to understand the world.” Although it may seem surprising, poets and scientists both seek to observe, explain, and understand the world around them. Poet Sara Holbrook reminds us, “In fact, in Ancient Greece there was no distinction between a scientist, poet, or philosopher." Linking reading and science offers opportunities to develop both comprehension skill and content knowledge and poetry is the perfect vehicle for capitalizing on those teachable moments of overlap and connection. 

We look forward to sharing more about this project when it's ready to roll...

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36. More poetry at USBBY

The recent USBBY/IBBY conference in St. Louis had an amazing line up of authors and illustrators who presented-- I wish I could share them all. But let me feature two more: Ashley Bryan and Pat Mora who opened up the conference. They were also the collaborators for the beautiful poster and poem for International Children's Book Day (ICBD)-- which is a very big deal in many countries around the world, but oddly, not so much here in the U.S. Countries within IBBY submit proposals for the honor of creating the annual ICBD poster and this year it was our turn (USBBY). It's gorgeous, don't you think?

And this poem has been displayed all around the world as people celebrate books, kids, and reading worldwide. 

Ashley Bryan created the art for this beautiful poster and kicked off the conference with his big heart, beautiful spirit, and an inviting recitation of many poems, focusing on what he called "vocal play." Here's just ONE poem moment he shared with us ("My People" by Langston Hughes).

Next, it was such a treat to hear from Pat Mora, the author and poet who created the "theme" poem for the ICBD poster. She challenged us to think about including ALL the kids and families who are hungry for literacy in our plans and activities and ended with a reading of the "Bookjoy" poem featured on the poster. Pat coined that perfect word, "Bookjoy," and it was the theme of our conference, too. Enjoy!

And just for fun...

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37. David L. Harrison at USBBY/IBBY conference 2013

I had a great time at the biennial USBBY/IBBY conference last week in St. Louis and was able to make a few video snippets of speakers-- particularly those who shared some poetry! I plan to share them here in segments. First up, my co-presenter, poet David L. Harrison, who did such a marvelous job talking about  his work, about sharing with students and teachers, and how to nurture responding and writing. Here he reads his poem, "He Was So Little," from our collaborative work, The Poetry Friday Anthology for Middle School, co-edited by my partner-in-poetry, Janet Wong. 

It just so happens that we also have a "printable" postcard version of this lovely poem that you can download at our website, PomeloBooks.com. Here it is:

For a bit of background on David:

David L. Harrison was born in Springfield, Missouri, and earned his bachelor’s degree in zoology from Drury College, his master’s degree in parasitology from Emory University, and completed graduate studies at Evansville University. He has worked as a pharmacologist, editorial manager, business owner, and as a professional musician, music teacher, and principal trombonist in the Springfield Symphony. He has served on school boards and as a college trustee and is active in several literacy organizations. He has led several literacy service projects including raising 181,000 new books for school libraries. 
He has published more than sixty-five works of fiction, nonfiction, and poetry for young people. His first book of poetry, Somebody Catch My Homework (Boyds Mills Press 1993) became an International Reading Association Children’s Choice book and inspired a play adaptation. Two other poetry books were also honored on the Children’s Choices list including When Cows Come Home (Boyds Mills Press 1994) and A Thousand Cousins (Boyds Mills Press 1996). His poem, “My Book,” is even sandblasted into the sidewalk at a library in Phoenix, Arizona. 
I love the pithy poems of Bugs, Poems about Creeping Things as well as the spot-on family poems of Vacation, We’re Going to the Ocean!, two books in a small trim-size that are child-friendly in both style and content.
He has also written an engaging autobiographical poetry collection, Connecting Dots: Poems of My Journey (Boyds Mills Press 2004) with poetic snapshots of his past which he describes as "dots" to connect in order to create a picture of his life. His collaborations with Dan Burr, the illustrator, are compelling and engaging, too, including the poems-plus-portraits collections, Cowboys and Pirates.
He maintains a lively blog with opportunities to write poetry and learn about teaching poetry, too, and his created several excellent resource books for teaching poetry that I've mentioned before. And he’s a lovely collaborator in our Poetry Friday anthology series. Here we celebrate the conclusion of our session! Such a fun time and what a responsive audience!

More to come... from Pat Mora, Ashley Bryan.... Happy Poetry Friday, everyone! 

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38. Presenting at USBBY

I’m off to the biennial conference of USBBY (the United States Board on Books for Young People)—really a regional North American conference of IBBY (the International Board on Books for Young People). I love this event (and this organization) and have been going to this conference for about 20 years. It’s always so invigorating to hear from creators of children’s books from around the world and be actively reminded of our global connections through books and reading. This weekend’s conference features an amazing line up of speakers including: Pat Mora, Ashley Bryan, Katherine Paterson, Siobhan Parkinson, Peter Sis, Klaas Verplancke, Bryan Collier, Jacqueline Woodson, and Gregory Maguire.

There will also be a panel featuring authors Andrea Cheng, Louise May, Simone Elkeles, Ifeoma Onyefulu, and Sara Farizan, plus we’ll hear from Kang Woo-hyon, President of Nambook International Committee and Junko Yokota, Nami Concours Jury President, as well as the storytellers Dashdondog Jamba (all the way from Mongolia!) and our own IBBY legend, Anne Pellowski, plus many regional Missouri authors and illustrators. One of the highlights will be the Dorothy Briley Lecture which will be given by the passionate and effervescent Mem Fox. Having served on the committee that selected her as our speaker, I am particularly excited to see what she has to say—and how she says it!
And as an added bonus, the speakers at this event often stay and mingle and listen to other sessions too. We eat meals together and take coffee breaks together and it really becomes more like a book retreat, than a hurried conference.

I’m also lucky enough to be presenting one of the 16 breakout sessions on Sunday and of course I’m talking about…. Poetry! This time, I’m focusing on poetry for middle school and featuring ways to engage readers at that challenging age in reading and performing poetry. I’m also happy to report that I’m sharing the stage with one of my favorite people, the poet David L. Harrison.

And here’s just a nugget of what I’ll be talking about. Our session theme is “PerformanceJoy”—to go along with the conference theme, “BookJoy,” and our session is entitled, “BookJoy for Middle School: Poetry in Many Voices” and here are some of my tips I’ll be sharing for targeting those (wonderful, but squirrelly) middle school students.

Take 5 Tips for Middle School
1. Take the lead, be the first to read the poem, and don’t be afraid to “ham it up.” Take the pressure off students by showing how the poem sounds, how words should be pronounced, how the meaning and emotion might be conveyed. Don’t ask them to do anything you wouldn’t do yourself.

2. Use props whenever possible to make a concrete connection to the poem, focus attention, and add a bit of fun. Choose something suggested by the poem. It’s even worth planning ahead to have a good prop ready beforehand. Students can then use the props too as they volunteer to join in on reading the poem, taking the focus off of them and giving the audience something specific to look at while listening—the poetry prop.

3. Try using media to add another dimension to the poetry experience. Look for digital images or videos relevant to the poem to display without sound as a backdrop while reading the poem aloud, or find music or sound effects suggested by the poem to underscore the meaning or mood as you read the poem aloud. 

4. Offer choices as you invite students to join in on reading the poem aloud with you. They can choose a favorite line to chime in on or volunteer to read a line or stanza of their choice or ask a friend to join them in reading a portion aloud. The more say they have about how they participate in the poem reading, the more eager and comfortable they will be about volunteering.

5. Make connections between the poems and their lives and experiences, between one poem and another, and between poems and other genres like nonfiction, short stories, newspaper articles, and songs). We provide example questions and poem connections for each poem, but once you have established that pattern, be open to the connections the students themselves make first. 

6. Be creative and use art, drama, and technology to present the poem and to engage students in participating in that presentation. Find relevant photos, draw quick Pictionary-style sketches, make word clouds, create graphic “novel” comic panels for poem lines, use American Sign Language for key words, pose in a dramatic “frozen” tableau, collaborate on a PowerPoint slide show, and so on. Look to share the poem in a way that is particularly meaningful for your students. Or better yet, let them show you!

I’ll also be highlighting some of my favorite poetry websites, poetry blogs, and poetry apps. And of course I’ll be talking about The Poetry Friday Anthology for Middle School—highlighting especially some of our culturally and globally rich poems in that collection by Joy Acey, Janet Wong, Guadalupe Garcia McCall, Margarita Engle, Julie Larios, and more. 

If you’re in the St. Louis (MO) area, it’s not too late to join us! I hope to post pictures and video footage of the conference, if possible, so stay tuned.

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39. Check out this high school poetry writing contest

Lake Effect, Penn State Behrend’s student-edited literary journal, is holding a national poetry contest for students in grades 9-12. Prizes include cash awards and publication. Here are the details.

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

The B.F.A. in creative writing program at Penn State Erie, The Behrend College, invites high school students to submit a poem to its Lake Effect National High School Poetry Competition. Students in grades 9-12 may enter one typed poem of up to 30 lines on any topic, in any form. Poems must be the original work of the student. Three prizes of $100, $75 and $50 will be awarded.

The first-place poem also will be published in Lake Effect, Penn State Behrend’s student-edited international literary journal and the centerpiece of the B.F.A. program’s immersive, experience-based curriculum. Creative writing students work closely with faculty in small classes; coursework is devoted to canonical literature, 20th- and 21st-century literature, critical theory, craft classes and seminars for reading and discussing student work. 

Entries must have the author’s name, street address, phone number, email address and grade printed on the top left corner; school name, street address and phone number and a teacher’s name and email address should appear at top right. Homeschooled students can use a parent’s information. Mail entries to George Looney, B.F.A. Program Chair, Penn State Behrend, 4951 College Dr., Erie, PA 16563-1501. 

Entries must be postmarked by Oct. 31, 2013. Winners will be notified by email or phone before Dec. 31.

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40. Cybils time

It's time for the Cybils award and I am tickled pink to serve as a judge in the POETRY category once again. Woo hoo! CYBILS stands for the Children's and YA Bloggers Literary awards and have been going strong since they were launched in 2006. Nominations opened today and close pretty quickly-- Oct. 15, so go here to put your favorite book forward. You can nominate in more than one category, but only one book in each. Then the judges will consider all the eligible books, correspond extensively, cajole, analyze, argue, advocate, and then select a short list of finalists (which is announced in November, if I remember correctly)-- which will then be sent to the second round of judges who choose ONE book for the award which is announced in February. That's it-- in a nutshell. Of course heaps of awards will be decided and announced in January, but I'm so happy that the Cybils has a category for poetry alone. Woo hoo!

The previous poetry winners include: 
2012: BookSpeak! Poems about Books by Laura Purdie Salas
2011: Requiem: Poems of the Terezin Ghetto by Paul B. Janeczko
2010: Mirror Mirror: A Book of Reversible Verse by Marilyn Singer
2009: Red Sings from Treetops: A Year in Colors by Joyce Sideman
2008: Honeybee by Naomi Shihab Nye
2007: This is Just to Say: Poems of Apology and Forgiveness by Joyce Sidman
2006: Butterfly Eyes and Other Secrets of the Meadow by Joyce Sidman

And the short lists of "Finalists" offer a tremendous roster of the best of the best. 

Check out this year's nominations and nominate your own favorite. 

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41. THE MORTIMER MINUTE: A Guest Post by Janet Wong

Earlier this month children's author April Halprin Wayland invited me to follow her in a Children's Poetry Blog Hop. Welcome to another installment of the Children's Poetry Blog Hop, aka The Mortimer Minute!

Here’s How-to-Hop, “Mortimer Minute” style!
  • Answer 3 questions. Pick one question from the previous Hopper. Add two of your own. Keep it short, please! This is a Blog Hop, not a Blog Long Jump. This is The Mortimer Minute—not The Mortimer Millennium!
  • Invite friends. Invite 1-2 bloggers who love children's poetry to follow you. They can be writers, teachers, librarians, or just-plain-old-poetry-lovers. 
  • Say thank you. In your own post, link to The Previous Hopper. Then keep The Mortimer Minute going: let us know who your Hoppers are and when they plan to post their own Mortimer Minute.

Mortimer: Is there a children's poem that you wish you had written? 
JW: “Puff” by Amy Ludwig Vanderwater. 

Mortimer: What do you have in your refrigerator?

JW: Yes, Mortimer: those ARE carrots you see there! Five pounds. Those carrots have been waiting for two weeks to get juiced. It will would be happening any day week now, except I’ll be on the road for two weeks (starting yesterday), speaking at conferences, attending book meetings, and visiting schools in Texas, Washington, and California. (Carrot $ has to come from somewhere.)

Mortimer: How can I (Mortimer) help you?
JW: In the kidlitosphere we have a thing called Poetry Friday. Bloggers put amazing posts up every Friday. A different host each week lists all these posts. I’m always enticed by a dozen posts but I rarely get around to reading more than 3. If I were to see “The Mortimer Minute” next to a couple of blogs next week, I would make a point of going there. You’d be giving me just the nudge I need. I mean, how could I NOT stop by a blog to visit you—for a minute?! 

My Mortimer Minute is almost up, so let me introduce the Hoppers who will follow me with The Mortimer Minute at their blogs next week!

Irene Latham writes middle grade novels and poetry for all ages. Her recent works were inspired by her childhood love for exotic animals: DON'T FEED THE BOY is about a boy who wants to escape his life at the zoo and DEAR WANDERING WILDEBEEST (2014) is a collection of poems set at an African water hole.

Renée M. LaTulippe
Renée M. LaTulippe writes children's poetry and is co-author of LIZARD LOU: A COLLECTION OF RHYMES OLD AND NEW and seven early readers for All About Learning Press. Her children's poetry blog at No Water River features poetry videos, poet interviews, extension activities, and other poetry goodies. 

That’s it for this week. Thanks, Mortimer!

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42. Birmingham, 1963: 50 years later

This week I am honored to feature Carole Boston Weatherford and her award-winning book, Birmingham, 1963, in memory of the bombing of the Birmingham church fifty years ago (September 15, 1963) that took the lives of four little African American girls. Carole's book is a beautiful, moving tribute and has been recognized with several awards:
  • Lee Bennett Hopkins Poetry Award
  • The Jefferson Cup Award
  • Jane Addams Children's Book Award, Books for Older Readers Honor Book
  • Kirkus Reviews' Editor's Choice list
  • Best Children’s Books of the Year, Children’s Book Committee of Bank Street College of Education 
  • Lion and the Unicorn Award for Excellence in North American Poetry Honor Book
  • Best Children's Books of 2008 — Christian Science Monitor

Carole was kind enough to answer a few questions about her book (below). She'll be appearing on a variety of blogs this month with even more information, too.

Why did you decide to write this book?
I don’t want young people to forget the sacrifices made in America’s freedom struggle. I’ve written a few books with that mission. One is even titled Remember the Bridge. In Birmingham, 1963, I offer an elegy to the four girls who were killed in the church bombing: Denise McNair, Addie Mae Collins, Carole Robertson and Cynthia Wesley.

Can you share a bit about your research and writing process?
After writing Freedom on the Menu: The Greensboro Sit-ins, I wanted to tackle another watershed event in the Civil Rights Movement. I chose the church bombing because, at the time, there was not children’s book devoted to the subject. The death of the four girls turned the tide of public opinion against white supremacists and the systemic racism that they avowed.

I began research using primary sources in the Birmingham Public Library  collection. I read newspaper accounts of the event, viewed news photos, and read responses by President John F. Kennedy and the Reverend Martin Luther King, Jr. I also referred to secondary sources. An article that interviewed the girls’ families helped me to humanize and personalize the victims.

From the start, I used poetry to tell the story. My early drafts in third person, however, lacked immediacy. So I decided on historical fiction and created a fictional first-person narrator. To layer the plot a bit, I set the action on the anonymous narrator’s tenth birthday. For rhythm and resonance, I employed repetition: “The year I turned ten…”; and “The day I turned ten….” What would have been a childhood milestone, she remembers instead for violence.

Why did you use poetry to tell the story?
Most of my books are poetry or are a hybrid genre blending poetry, biography, fiction or nonfiction. For example, I, Matthew Henson, Jesse Owens: Fastest Man Alive, and Before John Was a Jazz Giant: A Song of John Coltrane are poetic biographies. Becoming Billie Holiday is a fictional verse memoir. The Sound that Jazz Makes and a Negro League Scrapbook are poetic informational books. Birmingham, 1963 is an elegy. But it is also a narrative poem, a historical fiction. Poetry allows me to conjure images and distill emotions that make the story powerful.

Why did you create an anonymous narrator?
The historical events are true, but the first-person narrator is fictional. I used a narrator to give young readers a character with whom to identify. In so doing, young readers grapple with social justice issues. I did not want names of fictional characters to stick in readers’ minds or to take the focus off the real victims. Also, the narrator’s anonymity draws readers even closer to the action. In this scene, she struggles to get out of the church after the blast.

Smoke clogged my throat, stung my eyes.
As I crawled past crumbled plaster, broken glass,
Shredded Bibles and wrecked chairs—
Yelling Mama! Daddy!—scared church folk
Ran every which way to get out.  

Why did you structure the book with an “In Memoriam” section?
The book has two sections: a longer opening poem with a first person narrator is followed by four short “In Memoriam” poems—one about each of the four girls. The tributes read like incantations. I could not have written this book without honoring Cynthia, Denise, Carole and Addie Mae. I felt that it was important to spotlight their individuality. I did so by revealing their pastimes, personalities and passions. I tried to show not only who they were but who they might have become. In May 2013, the four girls were posthumously awarded Congressional Gold Medals.

This fall, Carole is offering FREE Skype visits to schools that read Birmingham, 1963.  Click here for more information. There's also a discussion and activity guide for the book here and more information at the publisher's link here.

Links to Classroom Resources
Free Film Kits (from Teaching Tolerance Magazine)-- Mighty Times: The Children’s March and America’s Civil Rights Movement: A Time for Justice

Birmingham Public Library Digital Collections -- Sixteenth Street Baptist Church Collection

The Rise and Fall of Jim Crow (PBS) – For Teachers

Eyes on the Prize (PBS) – For Teachers 

Library of Congress Teacher's Guide Primary Source Set Jim Crow in America

Photographs of Signs Enforcing Discrimination (Library of Congress) 

Special thanks to Carole for gathering all this information for us-- and for her beautiful, moving book-- and a reminder of the price children often pay for our collective ignorance and stupidity. Look for many more wonderful works by Carole Boston Weatherford at her web site here

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43. New novels in verse: Liars

It seems like there has been an explosion in the publication of novels in verse this year-- and so many great ones! Just out this week: Sonya Sones's latest-- To Be Perfectly Honest: A Novel Based on an Untrue Story (Simon & Schuster). It's getting lots of buzz...

Don't you love this crazy mash-up here (above)?! And it fits the story perfectly. President George "I cannot tell a lie" Washington plugging a book about a teenage girl with a serious problem with telling the truth. Why bother, when lying serves you so much better? (At first!) Teen readers will love the California setting, movie star characters, hilarious and authentic teen voice, and sexy first-love scenes. Here's one nugget (from near the end of the book, when the bottom has fallen out on her romance):

All Weekend Long

I weep.
Try to eat.

Admit defeat.

Toss. Turn.


Colette has a great relationship with her little, lisping brother that gives the book heart, and a difficult relationship with her glamorous mother that provides the story's tension. But it's the budding romance with a boy who may or may not be what he pretends to be (just like her!) that pushes the story along toward a satisfying conclusion. Check it out!

More on verse novels coming soon... plus blog tours for poets Carole Boston Weatherford and Janet Wong. Happy Poetry Friday, one and all! 

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44. Back to school!

It's hard to believe kids and teachers (and librarians) are heading back to school already! In honor of that big transition, here's a new poetry postcard featuring a fun "back to school" poem by new poet, Terry Webb Harshman.

This is one of the new "printables" featured at Pomelo Books and available here. Each poem comes from our Poetry Friday Anthology series and each book begins with two weeks of back-to-school poems for every grade level, K-5; 6-8. 

For more school-themed poems, look for the following list in my book, The Poetry Teacher's Book of Lists.

Poetry Books about School for Children: Children often particularly enjoy poetry about school since most of their daily lives are spent there. The ups and downs of classroom life make fine grist for both humorous and serious poetry. Look for these books of poems about school and share them throughout the school year. (Some are out of print, but may be available on library shelves or via your favorite "used book" provider.)
  1. Abeel, Samantha.1993. Reach for the Moon. Duluth, MN: Pfeifer-Hamilton.
  2. Bagert, Brod. 1999. Rainbows, Head Lice, and Pea-Green Tile: Poems in the Voice of the Classroom Teacher. Gainesville, FL: Maupin House.
  3. Bagert, Brod. 2008. School Fever. New York: Dial Books for Young Readers.
  4. Carpenter, Stephen. 1997. No More Homework! No More Tests!: Kids' Favorite Funny School Poems. Minnetonka, MN: Meadowbrook Press.
  5. Dakos, Kalli. 1990. If You're Not Here, Please Raise Your Hand: Poems about School.  New York: Four Winds Press. 
  6. Dakos, Kalli. 1993. Don't Read This Book Whatever You Do!: More Poems about School. New York: Trumpet Club.
  7. Dakos, Kalli. 1995. Mrs. Cole on an Onion Roll and Other School Poems. New York: Simon & Schuster.
  8. Dakos, Kalli. 1996. The Goof Who Invented Homework and Other School Poems. New York: Dial.
  9. Dakos, Kalli. 1999. The Bug in Teacher’s Coffee. New York: HarperCollins.
  10. Dakos, Kalli. 2003. Put Your Eyes Up Here: And Other School Poems. New York: Simon & Schuster. 
  11. Dakos, Kalli. 2011. A Funeral in the Bathroom and Other School Bathroom Poems. Albert Whitman.
  12. Franco, Betsy. 2009. Messing Around the Monkey Bars and Other School Poems for Two Voices. Ill. by Jessie Hartland. Somerville, MA: Candlewick. 
  13. Frost, Helen. 2004. Spinning Through the Universe. New York: Farrar, Straus & Giroux.
  14. Harrison, David L. 1993. Somebody Catch My Homework. Honesdale, PA: Wordsong/Boyds Mills Press.
  15. Harrison, David L. 2003. The Mouse was out at Recess. Honesdale, PA: Wordsong/Boyds Mills Press.
  16. Holbrook, Sara. 1996. The Dog Ate My Homework. Honesdale, PA: Boyds Mills Press.
  17. Hopkins, Lee Bennett. Ed. 1996. School Supplies: A Book of Poems. New York: Simon & Schuster.
  18. Horton, Joan. 2004. I Brought my Rat for Show-and-Tell and Other Funny School Poems. New York: Grosset & Dunlap.
  19. Katz, Alan. 2008. Smelly Locker; Silly Dilly School Songs. New York: Simon & Schuster.
  20. Kennedy, Dorothy M. Ed. 1993. I Thought I'd Take My Rat To School: Poems for September to June. New York: Little, Brown.
  21. Krensky, Stephen. 2004. There Once was a Very Odd School and Other Lunch-Box Limericks. New York: Dutton.
  22. Lansky, Bruce. Ed. 1997. No More Homework! No More Tests! Kids Favorite Funny School Poems. Minnetonka, MN: Meadowbrook Press.
  23. Lewis, J. Patrick. 2009. Countdown to Summer: A Poem for Every Day of the School Year. Ill. by Ethan Long. New York: Little, Brown.
  24. Nesbitt, Kenn. 2004. When the Teacher Isn't Looking. Minnetonka, MN: Meadowbrook Press.
  25. Nesbitt, Kenn. 2007.  Revenge of the Lunch Ladies. Minnetonka, MN: Meadowbrook Press.
  26. Opie, Iona and Peter Opie. Eds. 1992. I Saw Esau: The Schoolchild's Pocket Book. Cambridge, MA: Candlewick.
  27. Prelutsky, Jack. Ed. 2003. I Like It Here at School. New York: Scholastic.
  28. Prelutsky, Jack. 2006. What a Day it was at School!: Poems. New York: Greenwillow.
  29. Prelutsky, Jack. Ed. 2010. There’s No Place Like School. New York: HarperCollins.
  30. Salas, Laura Purdie. 2008. Do Buses Eat Kids? Poems About School. Minneapolis, MN: Capstone.
  31. Salas, Laura Purdie. 2009. Stampede! Poems to Celebrate the Wild Side of School! New York: Clarion.
  32. Shields, Carol Diggory. 1995. Lunch Money and Other Poems About School. New York: Dutton.
  33. Shields, Carol Diggory. 2003. Almost Late to School: And More School Poems. New York: Dutton.
  34. Sierra, Judy. 2000. There’s a Zoo in Room 22. San Diego: Harcourt.
  35. Sierra, Judy. 2005. Schoolyard Rhymes: Kids' Own Rhymes for Rope Skipping, Hand Clapping, Ball Bouncing, and Just Plain Fun. New York: Knopf.
  36. Singer, Marilyn. 1996. All We Needed to Say: Poems about School from Tanya and Sophie. New York: Atheneum.
  37. Stockland, Patricia M. 2004. Recess, Rhyme, and Reason: A collection of Poems about School. Minneapolis: Compass Point Books.
  38. Thurston, Cheryl Miller. 1987. Hide Your Ex-lax under the Wheaties: Poems about Schools, Teachers, Kids, and Education. Fort Collins, CO: Cottonwood Press.
  39. Weatherford, Carole Boston. 2006. Dear Mr. Rosenwald. New York: Scholastic.

For more info, check out the blog for this "list" book here.

Now head on over to NoWaterRiver where the fabulous Renee La Tulippe is hosting Poetry Friday this week!

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45. Yes, there is a Poetry, Texas

I've been away for a bit, finishing the revised edition of Children's Literature in Action: A Librarian's Guide, wrapping up summer classes, and enjoying a bit of a break. Earlier this summer I took a trip to a town just an hour away (from Dallas where I live) and had so much fun-- it's called POETRY, Texas. Yes, there is really a town called "Poetry" and I took pictures of all the places that carry the town name. I thought I might share them here, just for fun, as I wrap up my summer and head toward the new school year. Enjoy!

I definitely would love to live at the Poetry Ranch!
Poetry taxidermy? Does that mean preserving the old classic poems?
Stop for poetry!
Great to be welcomed and comforted by poetry.
I bet the singing is great here! 
That is the mayor of Poetry on the far right in the cap (not the cowboy hat). 
Yours truly at the corner of State and Poetry!

Posting by Sylvia M. Vardell © 2013. All rights reserved.

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46. Janet and me at ALA: The Movie

As I mentioned previously, Janet Wong and I were lucky enough to have a proposal accepted for the recent ALA conference in Chicago and presented a session on poetry and the Common Core. We had a great audience and were able to tape a few nuggets to share here-- thanks to poet, friend, and "filmmaker," Laura Purdie Salas. Here's Janet talking for a moment about how "ageless" poetry can be-- particularly how the poems in The Poetry Friday Anthology for Middle School can work at the high school level, too. 

And here I am wrapping up our session with a quote about the value of poetry from First Lady Michelle Obama.

We talked about why poetry is important for young people, what poetry skills are included in the Common Core Standards, and demonstrated how to share a poem while gently incorporating skill instruction. 

What are the expectations outlined in the Common Core?
There has been a lot of discussion about how the Common Core Standards focus on nonfiction-- and that is an interesting and important new direction. But there is a misconception that fiction and poetry reading are no longer important and this is certainly not true. There are Standards that address explicitly important aspects of reading, sharing, and understanding poetry, in particular. Let me also note that good teachers and librarians have been doing these things for YEARS (with our without official "standards"), but we hope that this push to the Common Core Standards might provide additional ammunition for incorporating poetry where it may not have been included before. So, what does the Common Core say about poetry? In a nutshell:
In sharing poetry with kindergartners, we capitalize on their developing knowledge of language, their joy in learning and playing with words, and their emerging understanding of how words should be spoken, spelled, read, and written. First we focus on enjoyment and understanding, then we guide students in recognizing and responding to poems. We can explore the rhythm of poetry as well as the power of rhyme and the sounds of words. (RL.K.5)
With first graders, we continue to do many of the same things, but shift slightly to guide students in understanding how poets express feelings in poetry and appeal to the senses through language. We can also help them understand and identify the words and phrases poets use to communicate emotions and convey sensory experiences through poetry. (RL.1.4)
In second grade, we add to the mix by guiding students in responding to the rhythm of poetry and recognizing how rhyme is used in poems. We can also explore how repetition and alliteration can help shape a poem and how meaning emerges. (RL.2.4)
In third grade, we do all of the above, plus support students in responding to poetry in various forms, exploring narrative poems that tell stories, lyrical poems that explore questions and emotions, and humorous poems that make us groan or laugh. We help students understand how poets use lines and stanzas to build poems in distinctive ways. (RL.3.5)
In fourth grade, we also guide students in responding to poetry in various forms, articulating themes from key ideas and details in the poems. In sharing poetry aloud and in print, we can assist students in understanding how structural elements such as verse, rhythm, and meter help shape a poem. (RL.4.2; RL.4.5)
Finally, in fifth grade, the emphasis is to help students respond to poetry in various forms, articulate themes from key ideas and details in the poems, and explain how the poem’s speaker reflects upon a topic and shapes it with a particular point of view. We can guide students in understanding word meanings and how Higurative language such as metaphors and similes function in poetry. We can also discuss how structural elements such as stanzas and line breaks help shape a poem and how visual and multimedia elements contribute to the meaning, tone, or beauty of a poem. In a variety of meaningful and participatory ways, we can celebrate poetry while gently introducing and reinforcing key skills. (RL.5.2; RL.5.4; RL.5.5; RL.5.6; RL.5.7)
The keys to remember are:
  • A poem should first be enjoyed for its own sake; 
  • Presenting poems in participatory ways (in various read-aloud strategies) gets children "into the poem;” 
  • The main idea is to help children see and hear the poetic elements after enjoying the poem through multiple readings—and to come through the "back door" to skills. 
As we shared a poem for every grade level, we demonstrated how it could be both meaningful and fun, starting with the grown up reading the poem aloud, then inviting children to join in on reading the poem aloud (with a variety of creative strategies). Next, we pause to talk with kids about the poem, connecting it with their lives and other reading or other poems. Then, we highlight ONE SKILL that  grows out of that poem organically and read the poem aloud again. Finally, we connect with another poem that is similar in some way or with a book of poetry that is similar. And all of this in five minutes! In The Poetry Friday Anthology we do all of this for you for every poem. These steps can also be applied to any poem in any other book of poetry, of course.

We had the audience reading poems with us and seeing how quickly and naturally poetry could be incorporated into weekly routines (or even more often!). I think the best compliment we heard was how practical and do-able this was. Exactly! We're trying to help people who don't already share poetry feel comfortable taking those steps. For more info, check out Pomelo Books and dig up my article, "Take 5 for Poetry" in the April 2013 issue of Book Links also available here.

And head on over to Todays' Little Ditty where Michelle Barnes is hosting the Poetry Friday party. See you there!

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47. ALA Poetry Blast 2013

I am so happy to report that Marilyn Singer and Barbara Genco were able to bring back the Poetry Blast at the ALA convention in Chicago last weekend. This time it was held in the exhibit hall at the Pop Top stage on Monday morning. It was a nice screened off area with a great sound system, so you could hear perfectly. And as always, Marilyn and Barbara had a great line up of poets with marvelous introductions of each one. I took photos and film and am happy to share a few nuggets here. Enjoy!

Rebecca Kai Dotlich read from Grumbles from the Forest, the forthcoming Grumbles from the Town, When Riddles Come Rumbling, and here's one of my favorites, her poem tribute to her dad from Lemonade Sun. Such a sweet and moving moment!

I was so tickled to hear Bob Raczka (rhymes with Nebraska) since I'm a big fan of his witty Guyku and Lemonade. He read from Guyku, his forthcoming Joy in Mudville, a "Casey at the Bat" riff, and Santa's Haiku Journal. Bob definitely delivered with humor and cleverness. Kids are going to love that Joy is a girl baseball player. I did!

Tamera Will Wissinger was also a new treat since I hadn't heard her read before and I love her new (first) book, Gone Fishing: A Novel in Verse. I loved how she wove a story through multiple poem forms and character voices.

Alma Flor Ada and F. Isabel Campoy, collaborators on the new poetry/prose book, Yes! We Are Latinos each read a poem from that book. They each brought such passion to the topic and to their readings. (Those video files seem to be too big for Blogspot, so I wasn't able to upload those. Sorry!)

Loved hearing Sid Farrar read from his recent (first) book, The Year Comes Round: Haiku Through the Seasons. His dry, droll voice added a fun twist to these lovely poems for the calendar year.

Laura Purdie Salas was up next and is such a natural teacher and reader sharing gems from Bookspeak! (book poems = a librarian's best friend) and Stampede (school poems = a teacher's best friend) as well as one of her poems from The Poetry Friday Anthology. (Thanks bunches, Laura!)

The marvelous Nikki Grimes read many selections from her new novel in poems, Words with Wings, with dear Ed Spicer sitting front and center-- the teacher referenced in that lovely book about the power of daydreaming. She also shared her powerful poem from Our White House: Looking In, Looking Out.

And the Blast ended once again with co-host Marilyn Singer sharing some of her latest gems: poems from Follow, Follow, her new companion to Mirror, Mirror, as well as some fascinating and funny selections from her presidential poems, Rutherford B., Who Was He? 

Thanks to Marilyn and Barbara for fighting to bring the Blast back and to Albert Whitman (and Michelle!), Charlesbridge (and Donna!), Disney-Hyperion (and Dina!), Houghton Mifflin Harcourt (and Lisa!), and Wordsong/Boyds Mills Press (and Kerry!) for sponsoring a wonderful session. I am so glad to see the Blast back and hope it will be on the docket in Vegas next year! Poets in sparkle and sequins-- I can see it already!

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48. Poetry, ALA, and CC

It's time for the annual conference of the American Library Association and I am lucky enough to be presenting a session along with my friend and collaborator, Janet Wong. If you're in Chicago for this event, we hope you'll join us on Sunday morning at 10:30 (McCormick Convention Center room S405). So far, 186 people have signed up to attend our session and we are THRILLED! Here's the lowdown:

Celebrating Poetry Fridays & Common Core Curriculum Connections 
Pausing for poetry every Friday is becoming a tradition in the children’s literature world and many librarians are incorporating this practice into their teaching and programming activities. In addition, the new Common Core standards include a poetry component highlighting a need for meaningful skills instruction. This proposed session will offer guidelines, instructional strategies, and print and digital resources for sharing poetry with children (ages 5-12) weekly while incorporating these required skills in meaningful ways. 

We'll kick off with an artsy "Poetry Is" slide show with images and poetry quotes.

Then we have a terrific PowerPoint slideshow highlighting our major points, if I do say so myself.  :-)  We'll be doling out the facts, connecting with the poetry standards from the Common Core and reading a lot of poetry and demonstrating how it can be celebrated with a bit of teaching tucked in along the way.

Here are a few nuggets to entice you:

When we think about what poetry does for children—and in just a few minutes of sharing on a regular basis—it’s a pretty impressive list. Author and literacy expert Mem Fox noted, "Rhymers will be readers; it's that simple. Experts in literacy and child development have discovered that if children know eight nursery rhymes by heart by the time they’re four years old, they’re usually among the best readers by the time they’re eight.” 

Writer and scholar Rebecca Rupp commented, “Poetry makes you smarter…. and all kinds of research indicates that rhyme, rhythm, and imagery boost memory formation and recall.”

The Common Core Poetry Standards in a nutshell!
Kindergarten: rhythm; sounds
1st Grade: senses; emotions
2nd Grade: repetition; alliteration
3rd Grade: forms and types of poetry
4th Grade: structure; meter
5th Grade: themes, metaphors, similes

Common Core Standards for Poetry
RL.K.5; RL.1.4; RL.2.4; RL.3.5; RL.4.2; RL.4.5; RL.5.2; RL.5.4; RL.5.5; RL.5.6; RL.5.7

What is The Poetry Friday Anthology series
(poems + mini-lessons)
*Quality poetry, previously unpublished, contemporary, diverse
*K-5; 6-8 (based on appeal and appropriateness, not Lexiles)
*Poem for every Friday at every grade = 36 poems for each grade level 
*Weekly themes across the gradesschool, pets, weather, food, families, holidays; connections across the curriculum (science, math, social studies)
*Take 5 strategies tied to Common Core (and TEKS in Texas) for every poem
*Plus, we offer a resource BLOG with links to each poet’s web site, plus each grade level is available in e-book form

We'll demonstrate our "Take 5" approach using poems from The Poetry Friday Anthology, as well as from other works of poetry-- like Shel Silverstein's Where the Sidewalk Ends, the bestselling children's poetry book of all time!

We'll also share poetry blog and web site resources too. We'll pack in as much as we can in our 60 minutes, I am sure!

Finally, Janet has promised interesting snacks to the first 50 people who show up and I have a ton of poetry "swag" to give away: poetry post-its, Poetry Friday buttons, poetry pens, poetry bookmarks, and poetry air fresheners for those long car trips this summer! Plus we have a few copies of The Poetry Friday Anthology (for K-5 and for middle school) to give away as door prizes. I have an excellent poetry trivia quiz to test your Poetry IQ! (For example, do you know what is widely considered the best-known American poem?)

Wishing you all a wonderful Poetry Friday-- which we will extend to continue through Poetry SUNDAY this week! Meanwhile, head on over to Amy's place at the Poem Farm for more Poetry Friday fun!

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49. New Children's Poet Laureate named

The next Children's Poet Laureate was announced today by the Poetry Foundation.  
It's Kenn Nesbitt. 

Kenn's recent works include:
Nesbitt, Kenn. 2009. My Hippo Has the Hiccups with CD: And Other Poems I Totally Made Up. Naperville, IL: Sourcebooks.
Nesbitt, Kenn. 2010. The Tighty Whitey Spider: And More Wacky Animal Poems I Totally Made Up. Naperville, IL: Sourcebooks.
Nesbitt, Kenn. 2007. Revenge of the Lunch Ladies: The Hilarious Book of School Poetry. New York: Meadowbrook Press.

His web site, Poetry4Kids has been a go-to site for poems, activities, and fun for kids.

The Children’s Poet Laureate was established by the Poetry Foundation in 2006 to raise awareness of the fact that children have a natural receptivity to poetry and are its most appreciative audience, especially when poems are written specifically for them. The Children’s Poet Laureate receives a $25,000 cash prize and a medallion that includes the inscription “Permit a child to join,” taken from an Emily Dickinson poem. The Children’s Poet Laureate serves as a consultant to the Foundation for a two-year period and gives at least two major public readings for children and their families, teachers, and librarians during his/her term. He/She will also serve as an advisor to the Poetry Foundation on children’s literature, and may engage in a variety of projects and events to help instill a love of poetry among the nation’s youngest readers.

Previous Laureates

2011 J. Patrick Lewis

2008 Mary Ann Hoberman

2006 Jack Prelutsky

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50. Sharing poetry in Bali (Part 2)

playing soccer in the courtyard

While I was in Bali for the IBBY conference, I also had the opportunity to visit a small school-- always an eye-opening experience. This was a school that served a population of some 40 children, most of them with special needs (learning disabilities, cerebral palsy, autism, etc.). The headmaster picked me up and drove me out and I toured the tiny building with its half dozen small un-airconditioned rooms with small homemade wooden chairs and tables.
moms hanging out with toddlers
the school library and library volunteer
 Moms sat outside in the open area and were welcome there. Children played-- some babies and toddlers there with their mothers. It was a relaxed and happy environment. I went into each room and smiled and chatted-- including a tiny library with a few shelves of paperback books and a small crate of toys.

Most of my time was spent in a small classroom with the oldest kids-- about a dozen-- working alongside their regular teacher-- she told me she was a former hotel worker whose English was good, so she volunteered to help out at the school. She was a natural and had a real knack in taking every moment and making it a language learning lesson.
practicing English words
a boy with autism adept on his notebook computer

I brought a pile of poetry books to share (and donate) and a copy of The Poetry Friday Anthology (or course). Although their knowledge of English was extremely limited, I did share the first stanzas of several poems-- as their teacher helped translate each key word. I shared:

(K-1) "Happy Song for the First Day of School" by Patricia Hubbell
It's my

(K-14) "Mrs. Betty" by Rebecca Kai Dotlich
Knock, knock!
Who's there?
It's Mrs. Betty!
She brought us a pot
of homemade

(One bright little girl recognized the "knock, knock" formula for jokes and pointed that out to me!)

(K-27) "Animal Talk" by Charles Ghigna
Ducks quack
Doves coo
Dogs bark
Cows moo

(They loved making the animal noises for this poem!)

Then we sang a variety of songs in English that were familiar to them and I joined right in. Plus, I chatted at length with the kids, answering questions and asking them questions.
this same boy thought of using his computer to take our photo while the teacher used my camera
her English was amazing!
The little girl who knew the "knock, knock" formula was quite adept with English and eager to converse-- she told me about TV programs she had watched about Sasquatch, ghosts, and zombies! The kids were eager to show off and were high energy!

a classroom for the younger children
What a privilege to spend a few hours with them and see the dedication of the staff and the eagerness of kids to learn new things. It's a good reminder of the heart of teaching-- caring about kids and helping them learn.

P.S. Two days later I came down with a bad cold-- just a little sampling of what teachers face every day in working with children! I remember getting sick at the beginning of every school year when I was a classroom teacher, as I built up my immunities for the year. Looks like that's another universal part of teaching!

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